Veterans news update for Jan. 6

Veterans news update for Jan. 6

Veterans news updateVeterans discharged after sexual trauma push for VA benefits (The Washington Post)
It took Navy Airman Apprentice Elena M. Giordano nine years to finally be granted service-connected disability compensation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for the post-traumatic stress disorder she suffered after multiple sexual assaults. Until recently, she was also not eligible for any VA medical care or other benefits because she was told she did not serve long enough. It\’s a common problem for women and men who leave the service early due to sexual trauma. “I was involuntarily discharged early. So I was not considered a real veteran,” she said. “Yet I  have spent the last 10 years suffering with PTSD because of the multiple traumas I endured there. And the second trauma of the VA denying what I’d gone through, especially when I filed my first claim in 2005, and it was denied. This is another issue for many of us that really needs attention.” In November, she was granted both health care and benefits, as part of the VA’s widespread push to help veterans wrongfully denied benefits due to lack of evidence. The VA is allowing many cases like Giordano’s to be reopened under the new guidelines of “markers” rather than paper trail evidence, such as police reports or medical treatment records that “most of us won’t have because it was covered up,” she said.

Ending veteran suicide is top priority for Sen. Blumenthal (Associated Press)
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal says his first legislative priority is a measure to help prevent suicide among the armed forces and service veterans. The Democrat is appearing in Hartford on Tuesday to tout a bill that would increase access to mental health care and outreach efforts targeting veterans. The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act was introduced in Congress in November but failed to win passage. It is named for a decorated Marine veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress and committed suicide in 2011 at the age of 28.

Colorado state lawmakers join in, want probe of veteran’s death (Denver Post)
State lawmakers on Monday asked the federal Department of Veteran Affairs to conduct a “rigorous, thorough and transparent investigation” into the care of a patient treated at the Grand Junction VA Medical Center who died in December. A legislative committee decided to send a letter to the Veterans Affairs after hearing from Chris Blumenstein, a former VA social worker who said he resigned last year to protest the kind of care Rodger Holmes received for his hepatitis C and urology problems. Holmes, a Vietnam veteran, died in December. “Rodger’s treatment went very wrong,” Blumenstein said. “I think our veterans from all over the state deserve better and I think we need to learn from this.” In a detailed time-line outlining his treatment at the VA hospital, he said his care was passed off to a primary care physician, a nurse practitioner and a pharmacist as his health deteriorated to the point that he was hospitalized and then placed in a VA hospice/nursing home unit for three months. Holmes said he was never given the option of seeing a liver specialist outside the VA medical center in Grand Junction.

Veterans employment, Obamacare first on GOP agenda (Stars & Stripes)
The first bit of business for Republicans in the new session of Congress will be to rekindle efforts to expand veterans employment — while also chipping away at Obamacare. Lawmakers were expected to reintroduce the Hire More Heroes Act in the House and the Senate on Tuesday after it failed last year. The bill encourages small businesses to hire more vets by exempting those with military experience from being counted toward the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate, which kicks in this year. The legislation passed the House and died in the Democrat-controlled Senate during the last session, but its chances may improve now that the GOP has a majority in both chambers. It serves popular Republican issues including support of the military, small businesses and the economy while dismantling part of President Barack Obama’s health insurance overhaul. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., who will again sponsor the House version, said post-9/11 veterans face higher unemployment than other veterans. Their joblessness rate is 5.7 percent compared to 4.5 percent for all veterans and 5.5 percent for the general U.S. population, according to a release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in November.

Congress blocks reduced housing allowance for student veterans (
Veterans going to school on the GI Bill will not be affected by lower basic housing allowances that Congress imposed on active-duty troops, thanks to eleventh-hour lobbying efforts by two House committees and veterans’ service organizations. Without the provision, student vets would have seen their housing assistance lowered because their housing stipends are tied to the Basic Allowance for Housing rates of the active duty force. “We set up literally until midnight with both committees to wall [the BAH rates] off from each other,” said Steve Gonzalez, assistant director for The American Legion’s Veterans Employment & Education Division in Washington, DC. “Right now you have a BAH number that only corresponds to the GI Bill and BAH that only corresponds to the active duty military.” Gonzalez said the fix is only temporary, however, and the Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars — which also took part in the last-minute lobbying — will begin working with the new Congress next week on a permanent solution.

One VA construction boondoggle after another (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Editorial: “The Department of Veterans Affairs has become a symbol of federal incompetence. In addition to neglecting our veterans through unacceptable delays in processing disability and compensation claims, the VA has routinely harmed them by making them wait months for appointments for routine care and covering up excessive wait times. And if all of that wasn’t bad enough, the VA has proved itself useless when it comes to building hospitals, as well. According to members of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs’ Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, major VA medical facility construction projects typically run an average of 35 months late and $360 million over budget — each! The delays and overspending have led to a congressional battle regarding mismanagement of VA construction projects across the country.”

Oregon sues VA for not employing blind vendors at rehab center (The Oregonian)
The state of Oregon accuses the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs of breaking a law that gives preference to blind people to run vending operations on government property. Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, acting on behalf of the Oregon Commission for the Blind, has sued the VA for failing to follow the law at its Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center & Clinics in White City, about 10 miles north of Medford. At issue is the Randolph-Sheppard Act of 1936, which is intended to provide economic opportunities and job stimulation for people who are blind, according to the lawsuit filed Friday in Medford’s U.S. District Court. For more than 40 years, the VA’s White City facility has employed up to 600 employees and maintained a food court and 28 vending machines, according to the lawsuit. In recent years, those machines have generated a net profit of about $6,000 a month. The Oregon Commission for the Blind accuses the VA of failing to follow the Randolph-Sheppard law. The dispute has  dragged on since 2009, when the state agency requested a permit to provide vending services at the White City facility. Veterans Affairs denied the request, saying it was exempt from the law, according to the lawsuit. But a panel of arbitrators found that the law did apply to the facility and that the VA was in violation of the law.

VA failed to vet dubious contractors (The Washington Times)
An internal VA study has found that an east coast office that handles about $4 billion in business each year didn’t do enough checks to vet the backgrounds of companies to which it awarded contracts. The internal study by consultants found that the Department of Veterans Affairs‘ “Service Area Office East” failed more than half the time to perform at least one of the required responsibility determination reviews, which include checking lists of banned companies or checking basic corporate facts with Dun and Bradstreet and other databases. The study, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, found the office would often neglect to fill out required paperwork on why they selected “high risk” contractors and found 94 percent of Federal Supply Schedule contracts had some kind of problem, including lack of proof that contracting officers pushed for government price reductions. Some contract files didn’t even have signatures.